The Corner

Taking Robert Jeffress Seriously

Before I address the Mormon/Christian/cult controversy launched by Pastor Robert Jeffress at last weekend’s Values Voter Summit, let me first provide full disclosure: I’ve supported Mitt Romney for a very long time — going back to the dawn of the last election cycle. In fact, in 2006 I formed a group designed to answer precisely the kinds of questions Pastor Jeffress raised. That being said, I don’t think it was right for Bill Bennett to accuse Jeffress of “bigotry.” When engaging in religious argument, calling out alleged bigotry simply draws lines; it utterly fails to persuade.

So let’s take Pastor Jeffress seriously and address his arguments. He makes three primary claims: First, he claims that Mormonism is a “cult,” not Christianity; second, he says Mitt Romney is not a Christian; and third, he asserts “Every true, born-again again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”  

While it’s hard to know which of these three claims is most explosive, the “cult” claim is certainly the most pejorative. Conjuring up images of robed, chanting, mind-controlled followers of the likes of Charles Manson and David Koresh, the word is far more inflammatory than illuminating. Anyone who is remotely familiar with Mormonism knows that it bears zero resemblance to a “cult” as commonly understood. And Jeffress himself now seems to recognize that, saying this morning on Fox News that Mormonism is a “theological cult,” not a “sociological cult.” But what is a “theological cult?” How does that differ from, say, a “faith”? It appears that Pastor Jeffress is trying to maintain the use of a slur while shifting its definition beyond all recognition.

Next, I’m intrigued as to how Pastor Jeffress can discern whether Mitt Romney, personally, is a Christian. At the heart of Christianity is the following confession of faith:

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

As I’ve asked elsewhere, does Pastor Jeffress know if Mitt has made that confession or if he has that belief? People have told me that Mitt could not possibly make that profession of faith because that’s not what “Mormons believe,” but one’s own (typically erroneous) view of what “Mormons believe” is hardly a God’s-eye view into a person’s soul.  

Finally, as an evangelical who supports Mitt, I’m genuinely puzzled by Pastor Jeffress’s claim that as a “true, born-again follower of Christ” that I should support a “Christian over a non-Christian.” Does he mean that I should support a pro-choice Christian over, say, a pro-life Jew? In a 2008 debate with Jay Sekulow, Pastor Jeffress indicated exactly that. This also means that if Mitt Romney had run for governor of South Carolina against Mark Sanford or for senator from Nevada against John Ensign, that “true, born again follower[s] of Christ” should have voted for Sanford and Ensign over Romney. Yet recent history has proven that this would have been a terribly wrong choice. If decades of scandals have taught us anything, it’s that religious affiliation is no guarantor of virtue or competence.

Curiously, however, Pastor Jeffress’s declaration that “true, born-again” Christians should only vote for other Christians (as he defines them) seems to apply only to the Republican primary. He’s indicated that he would support Mitt over Barack Obama, our Christian president. So what’s the guiding principle here? Distilled to its essence, it seems to be this: He’ll play the religion card until the cost gets just too high to bear, then he’ll release the “true” Christians to vote for the “cultist.” Is that a principled road for evangelicals to travel?  

As I wrote today in the Washington Post, we should judge candidates by their character, competence, and ideas, not their religious affiliation. And while Article 6 of the Constitution binds only the government, it also establishes a worthy principle for its citizens. When deciding how to vote, judge the man — not his church.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Most Popular


What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Lessons of the Mueller Probe

Editor’s Note: The following is the written testimony submitted by Mr. McCarthy in connection with a hearing earlier today before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the Mueller Report (specifically, the first volume of the report, which addresses Russia’s interference in the 2016 ... Read More

Why Are the Western Middle Classes So Angry?

What is going on with the unending Brexit drama, the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s election, and the “yellow vests” protests in France? What drives the growing estrangement of southern and eastern Europe from the European Union establishment? What fuels the anti-EU themes of recent European elections and ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More